Quebecers face emotional challenge of tightened restrictions as opposition criticizes curfew

As Quebecers face a curfew with an indefinite end, there are concerns about the impact on mental health and experts say it's vital to stay active and connected.

Experts offer ways to cope with stricter public health rules

Martin Côté went sledding with his son on Friday in Montreal's La Fontaine Park. He said staying outdoors has helped him deal with the pandemic. (CBC)

Martin Côté spent the last day of 2021 at Montreal's La Fontaine Park, sledding with his son. He said enjoying winter activities has helped lighten the pandemic's emotional toll.

"There are not a lot of solutions. Just to be alone and stay away from people for right now, that's life," he said. "We hope that 2022 will be better."

Quebec is once again imposing a curfew in an effort to curb the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant — protecting the health-care network from becoming overrun with patients.

New restrictions also include banning nearly all indoor gatherings, the closing of restaurant dining rooms, delaying the reopening of schools and closing non-essential businesses on Sundays. Gyms, bars and entertainment venues, like cinemas, were already closed.

This decision comes as the number of cases is skyrocketing, hitting daily highs like 14,188 on Thursday and 16,461 on Friday.

With over 100 new hospitalizations now seen each day, and the government has cited concern for the health network's capacity to care for all patients, not just those with COVID-19.

The new 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew went into effect on New Year's Eve as Premier François Legault looks to stop people from gathering in homes. 

Though gathering is prohibited, the premier said on Thursday that not everybody respects the restriction and the curfew is another way of deterring parties.

Montrealer Géraldine Mazoyer said that with the curfew returning and other public health restrictions tightening, she feels like it is last winter all over again — when the curfew lasted nearly five months. She had planned to go abroad for the holidays, but that didn't happen.

"We postponed, not to say cancelled, Christmas with family this time again," Mazoyer said. "At this stage, we're already frustrated anyways."

Guy Laperierre said he has been keeping himself busy, doing cross country and playing music.

Guy Laperierre, who was cross-country skiing in a Montreal park on Friday, said he has been reaching out to friends and family during the pandemic while keeping busy with a variety of solo activities. (CBC)

He feels bad for the businesses that need to close, he said, but he is willing to do what it takes to keep the community safe and reduce the strain on the health-care network. He sad he's trying to stay in contact with people to keep their spirits up.

"I write every day to many people, my family and friends, and I can phone people," he said. "I do it with great pleasure."

Pandemic's effect on mental health

As Quebecers face a curfew with an indefinite end, there are concerns about the impact on mental health, and experts say it's vital to stay active and connected.

Concordia University psychology professor Jean-Philippe Gouin said it's natural to feel frustrated, or as though you're missing out.

"In this context, what we want to do is think about, 'ok in this situation, what are the things I can control, what can I do that will allow me to still enjoy the time I have' and then really focus on that," Gouin said.

He said it's also important to stay active and spend time outside. This could be as simple as going for a walk, he said.

Premier François Legault said on Thursday that the new rules are needed to protect the health-care system. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Kim Lavoie, the chair of behavioural medicine at Université du Québec à Montréal, said, "it's not productive to stay angry, certainly in the short-term."

"Keep in mind that even though the sacrifices are big and we didn't see this coming or the government didn't see this coming, it's still what we have to do to get what we want," she added.

Lavoie said it's important to remember why the restrictions are there — that the goal is to get the situation under control and back to normal.

Opposition says curfew could have been prevented

Quebec's three main opposition parties are criticizing the provincial government's decision to impose the curfew, arguing the health order is a sign of the government's failure to prepare.

If the premier had acted earlier, then there would be less of a need for such strong measures, Opposition Liberal house leader André Fortin told The Canadian Press on Friday.

Other provinces aren't enacting such restrictive measures, he said. There are provinces that are accelerating vaccination rates and improving ventilation in schools, he said, "but our government chooses to be restrictive instead of acting."

Dr. André Veillette, an immunologist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, said it's not yet clear whether the pattern of infection in Quebec will follow that of South Africa where there was a steep rise followed by a steep decline a month later.

He said it may be more like the United Kingdom, where cases "are still going up, hospitalizations are going up.''

Veillette said he supports the new measures announced Thursday.

But he said the Quebec government could have begun using rapid tests earlier, improved access to N95 masks and made third doses of COVID-19 vaccines available faster to more people, particularly health-care workers.

With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio and The Canadian Press